The Ups and Downs of Critiques

I’ve been so busy writing, I haven’t thought of my blog. Sorry to keep you all at the edge of your keyboards. I know I promised more awesome wisdom.

One of the highlights of the weekend was critiques by Jane. We each received a one-on-one. I was so nervous. I agonized over what to send. I decided on a lyrical manuscript that I love and is my voice, but it seemed to have hit a boulder and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. The other is a story I had received a critique on before that is highly marketable. I’ve been having a hard time in deciding on 1st or 3rd person… and had rewritten many times. Jane’s critique was amazing. I took lots of notes, and she had some for me too. I left feeling strong about my writing skills, and had a positive direction to move forward too. I also loved that she noticed my diverse writing style since my manuscripts were both very different in voice and format.

Also, during the boot camp, we did spend time talking about receiving and giving critiques. So I’ll be talking about that a bit too.

So today’s blog is about how to receive a critique.

First, one mistake many people make is they hyper focus on one small part of the critique. This negates the whole process.

You’ve all heard the advice: listen, don’t try to defend your work, blah, blah, blah….

Yet, when you show your work to someone, it’s like pulling out a picture of your child or your dog… you are proud, and think they should drool over it. However, if we only got positive feedback, we’d never grow as a writer.

Brag Picture: Isn't he adorable!!! My son on his first day of school.

Brag Picture: Isn’t he adorable!!! My son on his first day of school.

One example of what often happens:

Critiquer: “This part isn’t working.”

You: You get defensive. You want to protect your child as if a vicious dog was on the attack, and you lose the rest of the feedback which could be the missing puzzle piece to fixing it.

My vicious dog.

My vicious dog.

When I get a critique, I usually roll my eyes as I read the feedback. Make note on a few things that I feel dumb about not catching. And then I put it away. I do not try to edit right away. Why? I need to process it. I need time to zoom out, detach myself from the initial feedback and be able to reread my baby with a new eye.

After a few days, or a week, or sometimes a month if I’m overwhelmed, I can pick it back up and say “Oh! She didn’t mean this, she meant that…I get it.” Or, “OK, I’ll make a note, but disagree. However, if that comes up again, I’ll need to revisit.”

No one is ever trying to critique your work to make you feel bad. They want to help if they agree to look at your MS in the first place. Sometimes we pigeon in on a specific thing that is said, and don’t listen to the rest. Then we may leave feeling dejected or like a failure. If you are told something that makes you sad, sing that song “Let It Go” and add your own magic. Do not let it ruin your experience or event.

Now the opposite can happen. When they start out with a positive, we can grasp onto those words and not pay attention to the issues that are happening. Be careful of jumping onto a cloud and ignoring the things that do need to be fixed.

I learned a ton in the 20 minutes or more I had with my one on one. One of the most important lessons was to step back and look at my manuscript from a third point of view.

Some good words to know:

Patterning: Patterns are often used in picture books to keep it fun and predictable. Make sure it is consistent.

Heartline: This is the thread that ties your story together

Marketability: Who will read it. And who will buy it.

Predictability: Sometimes this is actually good in a MS. Know your target audience before you start writing, or at least by the time you get to editing.

Page Out: How will your MS turn into a 32 page picture book. Make a dummy

Unneeded Words: It’s easy to use words you don’t need. Can you say the same thing in fewer words. What will the illustration show? Adjectives and Adverbs are often unneeded. Use sparingly

So, my lesson on critiques is that they are a must! And that the only way to get the most of the session is to listen, step back, and most importantly, know it’s not personal.

And if you don’t already have a critique group, find one. Even Jane Yolen has a critique group, and yes, they meet every week.

What have you learned from a critique?


11 thoughts on “The Ups and Downs of Critiques

  1. I agree. I’ve found that putting it aside for a while before actually trying to revise, is the most helpful. It’s a lot easier to determine the cause of the fire after the flames have been extinguished.

  2. I knew a critique group was important because I had read so many blogs where the writers thanked their critique groups for their help. Some writers even credited their critique groups for their stories success. So when I finally was able to join a group I was ready for great things to happen. I haven’t been disappointed. Their insight has caused me to step back and slap my head. Duh.
    I enjoyed learning from you what you have learned. Thanks.

  3. What a CUTIE your son is! Friendly, gorgeously handsome already, adorable personality shining through at such a young age… Are you planning anymore in a series?

    • Thank you! ❤ I am planning to write more. I'm hoping to blog every few days and share different things I found helpful as I review all my notes and put them in action. 🙂 So do check back!

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